- Two New York congressmen join four others in announcing they will not attend party convention in September
By Toby Harnden
PUBLISHED: 18:20 EST, 21 June 2012 | UPDATED: 18:45 EST, 21 June 2012
More Democratic superdelegates are boycotting their party’s convention in North Carolina amid fears that any association with President Barack Obama will doom them to defeat in November.
Representatives Kathy Hochul and Bill Owens of New York, who both won special elections in seats previously held by Republicans, have joined four Democrats from the Rust Belt in skipping the Democratic convention in Charlotte at the start of September.
Rep Hochul told The Daily: ‘I guarantee that my time will be better spent meeting the farmers, small business owners and other people who put me here.’
In an excuse not much more convincing than ‘I’m washing my hair’, a spokesman for Rep Owens insisted: ‘He just has a packed schedule back home.’
Staying away: Kathy Hochul, left, and Bill Owens, right, both representatives from New York, will not be at the Democratic convention to cast a vote for Mr Obama’s re-election
At least six superdelegates, given a vote in the presidential nomination process because of their status as senior elected officials, will not be casting their ballots for Obama.
On Tuesday, Representative Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, who has just won a tough Democratic primary in a newly-drawn district, said he had decided to stay at home rather than travel to Charlotte for Obama’s formal nomination in early September.
‘Since I was elected, my focus has been on creating jobs for people here, rather than focusing on the agendas of the political parties in Washington,’ he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
On Monday, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Senator Joe Manchin and Representative Nick Rahall, all seeking re-election this year, announced they would not go to Charlotte.
A Tomblin spokesman said the governor had ‘serious problems’ with both Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. ‘The governor feels that his time is best spent working in West Virginia to move our state forward instead of attending a four-day political rally in North Carolina.’
Manchin said in a statement: ‘I intend to spend this fall focused on the people of West Virginia, whether that’s representing them in my official U.S. Senate duties or here at home, where I can hear about their concerns and ideas to solve the problems of this great nation.’
Last month, the Senator refused even to say whether he would vote for Obama, stating that ‘I’ll look at the option’, adding that the last four years ‘have made it pretty rough’ for West Virginia.
Obama lost West Virginia by 18 percentage points in 2008 after having been trounced there by Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. His poor showing there, and in industrial areas of neighbouring Pennsylvania, underlined his difficulties in attracting white, blue collar voters.
That problem has only increased since he was elected, the economy has faltered and unemployment nationally has risen to 8.2 per cent. Manchin has expressed his dismay with Obama’s stances on coal and energy issues, arguing that he is backing environmentalists over workers.
Boycott: Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, left, and West Virginia’s governor Earl Ray Tomblin, right, have decided not to attend the Democratic convention in Charlotte in September
Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia will attend the convention but he is not facing re-election this year.
Jim Burn, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman, told the Tribune Review that he suspects that other candidates for the House of Representatives would stay at home rather than join the celebration in Charlotte, where Obama will be re-nominated in a 70,000-seater stadium. ‘Like Critz, that is the right thing for them to do. They should be home winning votes, not be seen at a party.’
In 2008, Manchin, then West Virginia’s governor, spoke at the convention in Denver and urged Democrats to vote for Obama.
‘My fellow Americans, we need a new leader for new times. Barack Obama is the only candidate in this race who has captured our nation’s hopes for the kind of change we so desperately need. Let’s do what’s right for America and elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.’
Since he won a special election in November 2010 to replace the late Senator Robert Byrd, however, he has become an Obama critic, in part at least to preserve his hopes of being elected to a full six-year term this year.
He said last month: ‘I’m worried about me. I’ve said it’s not a team sport. You need to go out and work for yourself.
Critz is due to face Keith Rothfus, a Republican, in a district that will be tough for any Democrat after McCain won there by eight points in 2008.
Mike Mikus, Critz’s campaign spokesman, said that internal polling showed Obama was down double digits to Mitt Romney in the redrawn district. He added that this made the decision to skip the convention ‘pretty easy’ and ‘it is fair to say’ that Critz would not ask Obama to campaign with him.
Lukewarm support: West Virginian congressmen Joe Manchin, left, and Nick Rahall, right, have refused to commit wholeheartedly to the President
Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly two to one in West Virginia and Democratic politicians hold 70 percent of local elected offices there, but Obama is so unpopular that Romney is virtually guaranteed to win the state.
Staying away from the convention will not stop Republican opponents from tying the four boycotting superdelegates from the Rust Belt to Obama. Bill Maloney, seeking to unseat Tombin, demanded that the Democrat go to Charlotte to vote against Obama’s nomination.
‘Earl Ray Tomblin has chosen to support Barack Obama by not going to his own convention to vote against the president,’ he said. ‘Barack Obama and his job-killing policies are hurting West Virginians. It is now clear that Earl Ray Tomblin supports Barack Obama and his policies.’
The absence of a number of superdelegates will add to a number of headaches for Obama surrounding the Charlotte convention.
Unions are furious that North Carolina will host the convention because they view the state as unfriendly to labour. The state’s unpopular Democratic governor Beverly Purdue has opted not to seek re-election.
David Parker, the state party chairman, is being sued by a male former employee who left his job after he accused the male party executive director of sexual harassment. The executive director’s ex-girlfriend then stated he had contracted HIV from him.
One of North Carolina’s most prominent Democrats, John Edwards, has just narrowly escaped being convicted of corruption charges after admitting fathering a child from an affair conducted while his wife was dying of cancer.
Most Democrats are increasingly pessimistic about Obama’s chances of winning North Carolina, where he just prevailed over McCain four years ago.